Carrying on from my previous post, in which I talked about trying to read this year’s Canadian literary lists…
Last evening, in front of my computer, I enjoyed the Giller gala streamed live via CBC online. This is my equivalent of watching the Grey Cup or some such sports competition, I suppose, though at only one hour long it hardly pays to get out the popcorn. I’d managed to read four of the six Giller-nominated books by last night and felt that much more invested in the stillness and tension after “the envelope please.” (It’s the richest of the Canadian prizes, at $ 50,000.) Esi Edugyan won it for Half-Blood Blues. While I’ve only begun her book, it’s been immediately obvious that it’s going to be an excellent read. It tells the story of some black jazz musicians in the Third Reich.
The video profiles/interviews with the six nominated authors were full of small treasures, from Michael Ondaatje’s “books are places of discovery and curiosity” to Patrick deWitt’s revelation that he got his wife to change the password to the computer so he can’t get at the internet, which distracts him. Talk about discipline — or the measures one must take to stay on track. He had realized, he said, that he wasn’t getting anything useful from it for his writing in any case!
Speaking of Patrick deWitt, I’ve read his The Sisters Brothers since last writing, and enjoyed it a lot. Well, not so much all the dead and gruesome bodies, I’m afraid, but I kept reminding myself that it’s a western, and you know how that is, everyone’s hand constantly at their holster. But it’s a bit of a switch too, apparently, though I’m not expert on the genre, and that may have been what I liked — a rather philosophical narrator, second brother Eli, who becomes increasingly tired (though not cured) of the violence. It’s a book about siblings, really, and is often quite funny. Who can’t relate to Eli’s “I could not sleep… and instead spent the rest of the night rewriting lost arguments from my past, altering history so that I emerged victorious.”
In the meanwhile, I also read Marina Endicott’s The Little Shadows, another tale of siblings but very different in pace and tone. It’s about three sisters (Aurora, Clover, Bella) and their mother Flora who take to the road as a singing act in the early twentieth century. It’s long (527 pages) and quite leisurely (a.k.a slow) and contains more detail about vaudeville than one might have imagined being curious about, but is warm and quite wonderfully written. It’s up for the Governor General’s prize, next week, along with Half-Blood Blues, The Sisters Brothers, The Free World (Bezmozgis) and Touch (Zentner).
This is all I’ll say here about reading the lists. It’s been a great tour and I’m glad I took it.